The Organ

Tilo Medek: Organ works

Tilo Medek: Organ works
Martin Schmeding
Cybele SACD 060.801

The life, work and career of the German composer Tilo Medek (1940-2006) should stand as a cautionary tale for many young aspiring organist-composers, in that, being born in East Germany at the outbreak of the Second World War, he found himself growing up and living in his early maturity in a relentlessly communist country, wherein his work, at all times deeply serious, was looked upon with some condescension (if not downright hostility) by those in musical power. He managed to emigrate to West Germany in the summer of 1977, where his music found a ready acceptance – at least initially in academic circles – and a more understanding environment. There are six works for organ by Medek on this disc, and one of the earliest – B-A-C-H, vier tone für orgel – demonstrates quite clearly the basis of the disenchantment of the East German ‘authorities’. It is a series of quasi-extemporised colour-patterns, of varying degrees of length, tone, counterpoint (as such) and dynamics, all based upon the famous four notes. As an example of pattern-making, it lacks a coherent sense of structure, seeming to play with our powers of reception, obliging us to make of it what we will. Much the same can be said of Verschüttete Bauernflöte (Buried Rustic Flute), guaranteed to go down a storm in avant-gardiste circles, but hardly recessional fare for Sunday morning worship. These pieces demonstrate that Medek was undoubtedly musical, but at times lapsed into a too-easy ‘compositional’ style in which anything could happen. It seems that, having got this manner out of his system, he was able in his later work to become the composer who had been struggling to get out; the opening item on the disc, Wandlungs-Passacaglia of 2001, is a genuinely worthwhile and far more coherent composition. Despite my reservations concerning some of the music on this album, there are several impressive passages here and coherent works in total. The recording quality is astonishingly good. It needs to be, for the performances by Martin Schmeding are breathtakingly virtuosic and full of genuine life. The music, as a totality, suits the 2004 Sauer instrument at the Evangelical Church of the Resurrection (Evan. Auferstehungskirche) in Düsseldorf-Oberkassel admirably.

Robert Matthew-Walker